CEO Ritch Allison Personally Pitches Domino’s From Pizza’s Pinnacle

Rich Allison, Domino's CEO
Ritch Allison, Domino’s CEO Credit: Domino’s

Domino’s leadership is like the American 4×400-meter track-relay teams in the Olympics that keep accelerating away from the competition as they pass the baton, one Games after another.

CEO Ritch Allison is presiding over an extension of Domino’s dominance of the pizza industry after taking over the company last summer and is putting rivals even further behind the curve.

That makes it easier for Allison, who inherited the Domino’s helm  after a hugely successful decade-long run by Patrick Doyle, to appear in the brand’s new TV ad. The CEO is front-and-center, explaining that Domino’s is awarding its own brand-loyalty points to customers who buy any pizza during the promotion, not just a Domino’s pie.

“The idea of promoting pizza, and all pizza, was really appealing to us,” Allison explained to Chief Executive. “Over 100 percent of the growth in the category is coming from Domino’s, because traffic for the rest has been shrinking. So we thought, ‘What can we do to promote the pizza category as a whole?’”

Allison said that the Domino’s marketing folks approached him about appearing personally in the ad because “this thing had to be authentic for it to work. It wasn’t some kind of gimmick” for the market leader to be giving away loyalty points to pizza eaters one and all,” he said. “We really are excited if our customers are out there eating pizza. And we shot the ad at an independent pizzeria in Atlanta that I’ve been to many times.”

Rest assured: Allison’s model for this decision wasn’t John Schnatter, the founder and namesake of Papa John’s pizza, who became famous by starring for years in the brand’s TV advertisements – and who experienced an ignominious fall from grace last year and now is tussling with the company while Papa John’s falls to No. 4 in U.S. pizza sales behind Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s.

Rather, Allison is channeling Doyle’s famous appearance in a Domino’s TV ad in 2009 reacting to complaints about the pizza’s taste by focus-group members, part of a massive corporate turnaround that he handed off to Allison. Domino’s overtook Pizza Hut in sales in 2017, and Allison has only accelerated the company’s performance in absolute and relative terms.

Revenues have been growing for more than 20 percent for the past three quarters, and Domino’s has experienced 30 consecutive quarters of U.S. same-store sales growth and 99 such quarters abroad. Now Allison is projecting Domino’s sales to reach $25 billion globally by 2025, about double the 2017 level of $12.3 billion.

The gains reflect a big improvement in food quality and harnessing of ordering technology that began under Doyle, as well as Allison’s additional emphasis of building “fortresses” of franchised Domino’s stores in existing markets to cut delivery times and put the pizza closer to carryout customers.

“The pizza category itself is only growing by 1 to 2 percent, with the population,” Allison said. In fact, the entire quick-serve restaurant category has stagnated over the last few years even amid a strong economy. “So it’s all about driving traffic growth.”

Allison allowed as how “it’s awfully weird to see myself on TV” playing a cinematic role in driving that growth. “It’s not something I aspired to. And it’s surprising how many people it takes and how long it takes” to do a TV ad.

In just a few weeks on the air, the ad already has created more than one billion media impressions, Allison said. Meanwhile, his homies have been “really positive” about his performance. “I’ve gotten texts and e-mails from friends and family members, some of whom I haven’t talked with in years. Although it’s been fairly mortifying for my children.”

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